A few years ago I read an article in O Magazine about a woman (Terry Tempest Williams) who, while cleaning out her mother’s home after she’d passed away, found several stacks of journals. My heart quickened at the thought, at the very idea that her mother had left behind a secret stash of books containing her most private thoughts, memories, and experiences. What I wouldn’t give to find just such a treasure-trove from my own mother.
I scanned the article, fast-forwarding to the part where Terry sat down to open the journals. I waited with baited breath to read about her mother’s innermost thoughts, her deepest and darkest secrets, or maybe even a secret life that her daughter knew nothing about. After all, this was a multi-page article in O (as in Oprah) Magazine! There just had to be something juicy in those journals. Didn’t there?
Apparently not. My mouth fell open when Terry opened journal after journal and found…wait for it…blank page after blank page. I was, to put it mildly, disappointed. More than that, I was heart broken. And so I tore the first page of the article out of the magazine and put it in a box, determined to write the words in those journals myself one day.
Fast forward another year or so. I was looking through some of my mother’s photos and came across the picture you see above. I remembered my mother speaking of Mac a time or two, but I didn’t know whether he had been just a friend or a former flame.
I set the photo apart from the others I’d been looking at, and over the next few days I began to imagine a wartime love affair between Mac and Virginia (the fact that my own mother’s name had been Virginia was merely a coincidence). It would be a powerful love, but a forbidden one because Virginia is a nun. Eventually she will leave the convent, but before they can marry, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Mac will heed the call to duty.
Around this time, the torn page from the O Magazine resurfaced and I knew I had found the words to fill the blank journals. My Mother’s Journals begins with the story of Olivia Hunter, whose life is in a downward spiral. As she struggles to come to terms with her husband’s infidelity, her tough exterior begins to crack and the events of the past few years (including the loss of both parents, a near-term child and her career) bring her to a breaking point.
When a stranger appears and delivers a box containing a set of her mother’s journals, Olivia begins to fit the pieces of her life back together and learns that life does not always work out the way you plan, that everyone makes mistakes, and that sometimes the person you need to forgive the most is yourself.
And so, I would publicly like to thank Terry Tempest-Williams’ mother for leaving behind a set of blank journals. For without them, this book may never have come to be.
My Mother’s Journals
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Excerpt from My Mother’s Journals:
Journal Entry, August 15, 1940 (Battle Creek, Michigan):
Today is the day that began the slow unraveling of everything I’ve always thought I wanted for my life. It’s been a year since I’ve seen my family, and until I set foot inside my parents’ house, I had no reason to believe that this visit home would be any different from the ones before. But then, I hadn’t counted on my brother bringing home a friend he’d met at Boot Camp.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I can hear my brother saying, “Mac, this is my…um, this is Sister Marie Francis,” but I am already somewhere else. Somewhere I have no business being. And when Roger “Mac” MacKenzie takes the hand I’ve placed in his, something inside me stirs. My soul, I think. Yes, it must be my soul.
His eyes are the color of the sky that’s been scrubbed free of clouds, and when they look into mine, it feels as though they are reaching inside me and touching a part of me that has never been touched before. By anyone. I feel bare, exposed, as though with just a glance he knows everything there is to know about me. Continue reading